On the final day of the Annapurna trek, as my battered legs were taking me down the final few thousand feet back to the lowlands and civilization, I passed a few Western trekkers on their way up. I recognized a logo on one of the guys and stopped him to chat. The hat he was wearing was from a race company I used to sponsor through Clif Bar. He and his crew were huge fans of Clif and were actually carrying the book that Gary, Clif’s founder, wrote a couple years back about the company. Even better, seeing how exhausted I was (and after he’d learned I ran out of bars back in Morocco), the guy reached into his pack and pulled out 3 Mojo bars and handed ’em to me. It was a bizarre feeling, being on the receiving end after so many years hooking people up through work. For the first time in a while, I realized I was again a consumer just like everyone else. Even more odd being on the side of a mountain in Nepal, thousands of miles away. Anyway, at that point after so many miles on the trail and missing home, though, it was an awesome connection and a great finish to an amazing couple weeks in the mountains.
A 2-hour rooftop ride later, I was back in the relative craziness of civilization in Pokhara. After a few days checking out the local sites and hanging with my Nepali pals, Kala and Narayan, Kala invited me to participate in the Tihar festival, one of the most important Hindu events of the year, with his family. Tihar, like just about everything Hindu is a complicated series of events that seems to celebrate all sorts of things over the course of a week or so. I still don’t understand it but I enjoyed it. It’s known as the festival of lights by some. For days, home and shop owners light candles in front of their buildings while groups of kids parade up and down the streets carrying portable stereos to accompany choreographed singing and dancing routines in front of each business in town, which culminate in a chant that doesn’t end ’til the kids get a few coins for their performance. It’s also called the sister festival by many of the men in the area. Because sisters move away from home when they get married, it’s also an opportunity for them to reunite with their brothers and celebrate their relationship.
I was honored when Kala told me his sister would be coming to Pokhara to include me in the festivities, during a ritual that involves an exchange of gifts between brothers and sisters. I’d never been involved in anything like it and was just one taste of the incredibly rich traditions of the Hindu people of Nepal. As I sat on a carpet laid out in the garden of Kala’s hotel, his sister prepared a plateful of paints and applied a tikka to my forehead using a banana leaf as a stencil, gave me a garland of marigolds she’d made and a plateful of fruits and other offerings and a shirt! In exchange, I gave her a sari I’d bought the night before in town. And that was it. I was her brother and part of the Bastola family. Tradition for them but an amazing new experience for me and something I’ll never forget.
Two days later, I unwillingly entered phase 2 of the Nepal Weight Loss Program. It goes something like this. Hike your ass off for two weeks up and down mountain trails. Then get a bizarre combination of food poisoning, bacterial diarrhea and giardia, which at first forces your body to empty its contents from both ends for two days (yay!) and then prevents you from refilling it with nausea for 5-6 more. By the time I was healthy again (after a nuclear cocktail of Cipro and local anti-dysentery pills from the local chemist), it was time to return to the mountains to lose a few more pounds.
On my last morning in Pokhara, trying to regain some strength, I stopped into a little hole in the wall restaurant down a side alley. As I was sitting there, eating porridge and tea (the only neutral things I could get down for a bit), a Western woman next to me starts telling her Nepali friend about how her son had, “just finished driving a veggie oil powered firetruck from Alaska through South America!”. I couldn’t believe my ears. Here, in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles from home, I’d run into the mother of my buddy, Seth Warren. If you’ve been reading along, the story might sound familiar. And her friend’s name was Karma. Probably doesn’t mean anything, but I thought that was cool too..
That afternoon, I jumped on a bus with a few Aussie kayakers out to Bandipur (a town unscathed by tourism and full of amazing Newari architecture and mountain views), a few hours east on the main highway that runs to Kathmandu. The best rooftop ride yet with blue skies, bright sun and views of the Annapurna range for most of the way. Greyhound was never this much fun. Funny side note: after one of the Aussie’s fired up a joint, a smiling Nepali sitting on the other side watched him for a bit and then introduced himself and pulled out his Nepali Army ID card. He just laughed as a look of dread covered the kid’s face. He wasn’t on duty and didn’t care but his timing was perfect and had the rest of us roaring with laughter. His name, by the way, was Buddha. Again, not sure if that means anything, but Karma and Buddha in the same day?? I’ll take it.
Finally back in the chaos and pollution of Kathmandu (actually oddly welcoming after so much time away from a density of people), I prepared for phase 3 of the Nepal Weight Loss Program – a trek through the Solukhumbu region of Nepal to see the big one..